Like most couples, aging couples face some of the same challenges of being in and sustaining a relationship as anyone else. Senior couples like other couples face communication, intimacy, trust, legal, and relationship role issues. However, there are many additional challenges couples face as they begin to age, i.e., retirement, living on less of an income, declining health, parenting role changes to more of mentorship and guidance, major identity changes, diminishing socialization, etc.

Because many adults base their identities on their jobs it is important to identify and develop other interests. Unfortunately, when there are health care concerns in a relationship the focus is drawn away from the couple and the relationship to the health and medical issues. One of the challenges of some aging couples include memory issues and dementia. Dementia is not a normal process of aging. It is characterized by multiple cognitive deficits with memory impairments as a frequent early symptom.

Symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Getting lost in familiar places
  • Repetitive questioning
  • Odd or inappropriate behaviors
  • Forgetfulness of recent events
  • Repeated falls or loss of balance
  • Personality changes
  • Decline in planning and organization
  • Changes in diet/eating habits
  • Changes in hygiene
  • Increased apathy
  • Changes in language abilities, including comprehension

Often it is very difficult to determine exactly when a person should be concerned with cognitive changes they may be experiencing. Symptoms and degree of severity vary from person to person, what is normal for someone, may not be normal for someone else. This contributes to the challenges clinicians may face when determining whether or not cognitive decline is due to a physiological or psychological (excessive worry, depression, anxiety, etc.) condition.

For most senior couples experiencing the challenges of dementia it can be very confusing and scary. It is for this reason that early identification and treatment is essential to maintaining some degree of normalcy the life of the individual suffering as well as the family. Risk factors for cognitive decline include high blood pressure, diabetes, poor nutrition and social isolation are associated with a higher probability of developing a neurodegenerative condition.

Ethel & Carl

Ethel & Carl have been married for 38 years, they have 4 adult children, and 10 grandchildren that they adore. Ethel has high blood pressure, however, she is consistently medication compliant and therefore her blood pressure has been stable for the last 2 years.

For the last 8 months Carl has been acting “bizarrely”, he has been very irritable, and short with both Ethel and his grandchildren. For the last several nights Ethel has awakened during the night to find Carl standing in the doorway to the couple’s home, staring at the night sky. Often when asked what he is doing, he responded by saying he “doesn’t know” and he is unsure when he got up or how he travelled the length of the home to the doorway without being aware he had done so. Carl also has gotten lost when he attempted to go to the grocery store to purchase items for the home. Becoming increasingly angry about getting lost, he insisted the grocery store had “closed” therefore that was the reason he had been unable to find it. Ethel and Carl had been living in the same home for 20 years and the grocery store had been located approximately 10 minutes from the couple’s home the entire time.